Democratic State Senator Amanda Cappelletti (SD-17) announced she is proposing legislation to prohibit the banning of books in Pennsylvania. The co-sponsorship memorandum, issued to all members of the state senate on July 10, has drawn both cheers and jeers.
“From my Democratic colleagues, it has been overwhelmingly positive in terms of protecting libraries and the right to read,” she said. “From my Republican colleagues, well, they are actively attacking me on social media about this.”
It was not long after the co-sponsorship memo was released that commentary from far-right censorship supporters began to appear.
Critical of the legislation is the PA Senate Republican Campaign Committee via Twitter, and an article in Delaware Valley Journal. The Tweets, and a link in the article, point to the book Gender Queer.
“What you want your child to see should not be dictated by another parent and that’s all we’re asking with this legislation,” the senator said. “It’s really quite terrifying to think one person can literally change what’s being taught and what’s being made available.”
Manufactured outrage by the far-right has been instrumental in helping push a false narrative that pornography exists in Pennsylvania’s public and school libraries.
Heather Adams, District Attorney for Lancaster County, refused to press charges against the Hempfield School District earlier this year for alleged pornography in the libraries.
[The] “books have been awarded numerous awards by established literary organizations, and as such do not meet the definition of ‘obscene’ under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code,” Adams told LancasterOnline.
Since February, locally the Indian Valley Public Library has come under attack by appointed Telford Councilman Robert Jacobus.
Jacobus, who is running for an elected seat on the council, prominently features his objections to Gender Queer on his campaign website Telford Tough.
Wendy Leshinskie, who sits on IVPL Board of Trustees, provided members of the Telford council a copy of the library’s new Value Statement while giving her monthly report at the July meeting.
A portion of that statement says, “The materials that are frequently referenced as inappropriate for the IVPL’s collection remain in circulation, unchallenged via the official means of requesting evaluation.”
The Beacon asked Margie Stern, Director of IVPL, if Mr. Jacobus has ever completed the paperwork to officially challenge the book Gender Queer.
“Jacobus has not submitted a Request for Reconsideration form for any of the five books he has disparaged,” Stern replied via email.
Following the prescribed process at IVPL to challenge Gender Queer, and other books, has the potential to end the debate about the library’s collection containing “pornography.”
Instead, Jacobus has chosen not to pursue proper channels and instead continues to push his personal opinion as campaign talking points during borough council meetings and while stumping.
“Librarians and teachers don’t go into those fields and those careers to make tons of money to become rich or for prestige,” Cappelletti said. “They do it because they love education. They love young people. They love books and they spend a lot of time and energy really digging in to understand what is age appropriate for individuals and kids, the people that they’re serving.”
Language for the bill is still being crafted for the proposed new law that is scheduled to debut in the fall. Constituents who support a ban on banning books are encouraged to contact their state senator to ask them to co-sponsor the legislation.
Individuals in municipalities with public libraries may also encourage elected officials at the local level to pass a resolution to ban the banning of books as Lansdale Borough has done.
“People trying to ban books or materials from schools and libraries, trying to pass judgment on what others should or shouldn’t read… we just thought that kind of activity is egregious, and we wanted to do something about it,” said Mary Fuller, Vice President of Lansdale Borough Council and Library Chairperson.
In April, Democratic House Representatives Christopher M. Rabb (HD-200), Carol Hill-Evans (HD-95), Tarah Probst (HD-189), and Ismail Smith-Wade-El (HD-49) introduced legislation to establish procedures to protect public school students’ right to read and learn.
“It is unfortunate that Pennsylvania has become the state with the second highest number of books banned from school libraries and curriculum by school boards,” reads a portion of the co-sponsorship memorandum for House Bill 1374 that seeks to amend the Public School Code of 1949.
The bill is currently pending in the House Education Committee.
“When we look through history, the people who have banned books, who have burned books, have never ended up on the right side of history,” Cappelletti said.